Secret Defense | Chicago Reader

Secret Defense

Jacques Rivette's 20th feature (1997) is perhaps the most classically constructed of all his films, in terms of mise en scene as well as plot. Sandrine Bonnaire stars as a research chemist whose kid brother (Gregoire Colin from The Dream Life of Angels) discovers that their father's accidental death from falling off a train a few years earlier may have been a murder committed by his business partner (Jerzy Radziwilowicz), who's subsequently taken over the business. The brother plans to kill the partner, and the sister, fearful that he might bungle the job, takes a train to the country to perform the deed herself. Her journey, covering almost 25 minutes, displays Rivette's genius in handling duration and nuanced acting and shows Bonnaire at her near best. As a rule, Rivette's actresses shine more than his actors, but Radziwilowicz—a skillful veteran of Wajda, Kieslowski, and Godard pictures—gives a wonderfully dense and suggestive performance, and the brooding intimations of Greek tragedy are part of what keeps this 170-minute thriller fascinating throughout. With Laure Marsac (in an intriguing double role as sisters) and Francoise Fabian; Pascal Bonitzer and Emmanuelle Cuau collaborated with Rivette on the script.

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